October 25, 2012

When 30 Rock Ends This Season, I Don’t Know What I’m Going To Do With My Life

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With the onslaught of fall premieres and my beloved Happy Endings returning to me, autumn is one of the most joyous times in any pop culture addict’s life. It’s a time when you can dance and sing and get in arguments on Homeland message boards and try to convince anyone that Don’t Trust the B— in Apartment 23 is actually a good show, despite the title. However, with the coming of joy brings sadness every year, when you have to figure out what the hell you’re going to do now that you don’t have Gilmore Girls and Veronica Mars to spend your Tuesday nights with. How are you going to perfect your “over the moon face” or practice talking really, really fast so you can be in a black-and-white screwball comedy with Cary Grant — or at least watch one with the Stars Hollow crew?

Every year comes with disappointment and devastation, and I honestly think networks should broadcast an “In Memoriam” segment every year, where I get to mourn the passing of Pushing Daisies and Party Down while weeping to Etta James. This year, no demise feels more imminent than the passing of NBC’s former Thursday night heroes: Community, which might never premiere for its Friday night death slot and The Office, a show that technically should have been cancelled years ago. (May God watch over you, Parks and Recreation.) Although I can let go of Jim and Pam and try to get along without the antics of Troy and Abed, I’ll never forget Liz Lemon and the wisdom her travails have imparted on me. She taught me to work like I don’t need the money, to love like I’ve never been hurt, dance like nobody’s watching and to enjoy Satchel Paige brand tampons. Without her guidance, I would have never thought to work on my night cheese or known that night cheese was even a thing. Where would I even be without her?

I know almost every woman and gay in the world thinks this, but I feel like I am Liz Lemon. Who doesn’t identify with her quixotic quest to have it all, to have the job, the life and be Mrs. Astronaut Mike Dexter? In following the life of one Elizabeth Lemon, I feel like her 30 Rock universe has become a part of me. I watched the show from the pilot — because anyone who saw Mean Girls knew anything written by Tina Fey would be good. Like Seinfeld before it, the show started out rough, as it found its footing, but quickly turned into one of the funniest and fastest shows on TV. However, I remember the first moment it became something more than just a show: the first time the word “blerg” appeared on the screen. At the time, blerg was the word I used to vent dejection, generalized ennui or inexpressible angst (similar to Bridget Jones’ pervasive “gahh!”), and I couldn’t believe 30 Rock was on that wavelength. I knew I didn’t make up that word, but it was my secret little thing, and Liz Lemon knew that somehow. She got me.

Over the years, I’ve looked upon Liz Lemon not just as an alterna-universe role model, but also a litmus test on which to base my life. When faced with any situation, I would simply ask “What Would Liz Lemon Do (WWLLD)?” And the answers have been simple: Yes, Liz Lemon would order another cheese pizza. No, Liz Lemon would go to that new restaurant inside the owner’s mom’s garage called “Underground” that your friend is DJ-ing the opening of, because that’s hipster nonsense. Yes, Liz would probably stay up too late working. No, Liz definitely does not think that tennis shoes are inappropriate attire for the workplace, stupid employee handbook. (They’re business sneakers, duh!) Yes, Liz ate that cookie out of the garbage can. No, it wasn’t that moldy and there’s definitely nothing wrong with it. And, yes, Liz and I are both high fiving a million angels right now.

Many great television programs and movies do that, inspire an immense level of obsession and identification with its characters, and I argue that it’s impossible to enjoy shows like Friends or movies like Grey Gardens otherwise. If you can’t figure out which Beale you would be (I’m a Big Edie) or whether you’re a Rachel, Monica or Phoebe, what’s the point? In the case of 30 Rock, almost every person I know fits the mold of one of those characters, and it’s distractingly easy to cast your officemates as 30 Rock characters. If you live in New York or LA, you know at least 17 Jennas, Washington D.C. is a town full of Jack Donaghys and almost every other guy in Chicago looks like Pete Hornberger. (We’re a town of Petes and Lizs, and we’re damn proud of it.) The show is like one big Myers Briggs test, which is probably why Jack mentions in one episode that Kenneth’s MBTI shows a rare blend of “extraverted, intuitive and aggressive.” For our Kenneths at home, take note, and stay away from the espresso machine.

30 Rock is a show entirely comprised of great characters, Tumblr-able one-liners and ready-to-use references — from Jenna’s website, Jennas-Side.com; to Liz Lemon’s phone sex hotline commercial, where she went by “Bijou”; and Emily Mortimer’s classic guest spot on the show, in which she was stricken with “hollow bones” and “vertigo.” Although it wasn’t always consistent (and I actually prayed for the Mary Steenburgen subplot to end), Tina Fey’s SNL spoof was like the show that inspired it — one comprised of great moments. Like SNL at its best, 30 Rock was one of the few shows to truly transform the cultural lexicon. SNL had its “wild and crazy guys” and “Jane, you ignorant slut,” and 30 Rock gave us terrific bon mots like “I want to go to there” and “Is that a thing?”

Tina Fey’s script for Mean Girls functions the same way, a script whose effortless quotability allowed it to be infinitely appropriated and become a part of the way we speak. Even my parents, who have never seen Mean Girls, know what I’m talking about when I say, “Oh no she did not!” or “Four for you, Glen Coco! You go, Glen Coco!” The vernacular impact of the work becomes bigger than the work itself. Thought experiment: How many Mean Girls quote wars have you gotten in? How long do they go on for? How many times have you just had to call it a draw and move on, because you had to just do other things? Mean Girls and 30 Rock are like that, cultural reference rabbit holes you can get lost in.

Although I’ll be sad to lose 30 Rock and its many contributions to the pop culture zeitgeist, nothing lasts forever and nothing is beautiful and perfect forever. If Liz Lemon and 30 Rock showed us anything, it’s that even the Floyds have to move to Cleveland (and everyone is a model west of the Allegheny). NBC might be shying away from 30 Rock’s brand of lightning-paced screwball humor (as the network decided Guys With Kids, Whitney and Animal Practice was what America wanted), but Tina Fey and Alec Baldwin will be moving onto resurgent film careers. Fey proved herself an equally brilliant author last year with the success of Bossypants, a book that plays off her nerdy feminist persona. And Alec Baldwin is enjoying quite the second wind — in films where he just plays Jack Donaghy (see: It’s Complicated.) Even if the show won’t be around, these people will be riffing on versions of these characters for the rest of their lives, which shows that (for once) typecasting pays off. I might not have 30 Rock, but I’ll always have Jack, Liz and the money advice I got from PBS.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m busy trying to have it all. Lemon out. TC mark

image – 30 Rock
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